The Chicago Blackhawks are a team that thrives upon the depth on their roster, but over the course of the postseason, that depth has been compromised by a combination of factors. Whether it’s injuries to guys like Andrew Shaw or pure struggles like the ones that Kris Versteeg and Brandon Bollig have been having, the team has looked out of sorts way too often in the playoffs.
On Wednesday night, one player continued to buck that trend and really stood out as he helped the Hawks to victory to extend the series. Brandon Saad had arguably the best night of his career as a member of the Blackhawks, picking up a goal and two assists with seven shots on goal in the team’s 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. Saad also blocked two shots and dished out three hits in the game, capping off a memorable evening for the youngster.
His offensive exploits in Game 5 were impressive enough, but his defensive prowess was on full display as well. Just over a minute after the Kings scored to narrow the deficit to 2-1 in the first period, Saad and Patrick Kane combined to make it a 3-1 game. First it was Saad doing the defensive work, displaying an aggressive forecheck and swiping the puck in the neutral zone. In the offensive zone Kane came to the rescue, backchecking along the boards and forcing the puck over to Saad. The youngster then found Andrew Shaw near the net, but when his shot was denied, Saad potted the rebound and extended the Hawks’ lead back to two goals.
Saad not only showed off his blossoming defensive skills in the game, but he displayed some intelligence as well. On a rush early in the third period with his team trailing by a goal, Saad came into the zone with a 1-on-1 matchup. Instead of rushing a high shot that Jonathan Quick could easily glove down, Saad fired a low hard shot at the goaltender’s pads, and Ben Smith was able to collect the rebound and score to make it a 4-4 game.
Ultimately though, it was Saad’s touch passing that proved to be the biggest difference. Using his speed to his advantage, Saad burst into the offensive zone early in the second overtime period, drawing the attention of several Kings defenders in the process. When he finally came up to the face-off circle, Saad carefully feathered a saucer pass across the ice to Michal Handzus, who scored the game-winner and sent the Hawks to Game 6 in Los Angeles.
Whether it was his speed, his smarts, or his scoring, Saad pulled every weapon out of his arsenal on Wednesday and deployed them with a precision that transcends his age. He is maturing into a tremendous weapon that is going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time with the Blackhawks, and with teammates like Kane at his side, he is only going to get better with age.